Patricia Ghiglino and Reinaldo Lopez have big plans for the Washington Sculpture Center, a new venture they're launching in Southeast Washington near the Navy Yard. After a year of preparations, the wife-and-husband team will unveil the center at an open house on June 19 and begin holding classes there next month. They envision a hub of educational and artistic activity that will create a new wave of local sculptors and push sculpture to a higher profile in the local art scene.

Ghiglino and Lopez have owned the sprawling industrial building that houses the center for more than a decade. But until last year, the facility was devoted to their company, Professional Restoration. Ghiglino managed business operations and Lopez, an accomplished stone carver, oversaw a string of notable stonework projects -- including replacement of the lions on Connecticut Avenue's Taft Bridge, restoration of the Washington Monument lobby, and the creation of new visitor entrances at the Smithsonian Castle.

Ghiglino and Lopez closed the business to focus on the center, believing that current resources for sculpture training -- primarily college art departments -- are insufficient to meet the needs of artists of all ages and skill levels whom they hope to serve.

As with their restoration business, Ghiglino, a native of Peru who moved here in 1977, will concentrate on the sculpture center's administration, while Lopez, a native of Spain who moved here in 1983, will emphasize artistic leadership. In addition to stone carving, taught by Lopez, the center's specialties will include bronze casting and mold making, taught by Patrick Birge; blacksmithing, taught by George Anderton; stained glass, taught by Jimmy Powers; mosaics, taught by Gene Sterud; and flame work, taught by Lisa St. Martin and Elizabeth Mears.

"We believe that a center like this is needed in the city," says Ghiglino, taking a break from the flurry of renovation activity continuing to transform space throughout the center into specialized studios. "People shouldn't have to go to Pennsylvania, New Jersey or North Carolina to take a decent course."

Tuition will range from $150 to $300 for each class, Ghiglino says. Some courses can be completed in a single weekend, while others will last as long as 10 weeks.

The minimum age for regular classes is 16, though Ghiglino and Lopez are planning programs that would serve younger students as well. They also hope to forge a partnership with the D.C. public schools that would make the sculpture center available to high school art students and teachers.

"This is needed for the youngsters, for the baby boomers, for the senior citizens -- to come and do and learn something with their hands, and have fun, and play with it," Ghiglino says. "And for the most serious professionals, it's a center where they can interchange ideas with other artists. They can collaborate and do projects together."

Ghiglino and Lopez also hope the center will inspire greater interest in public sculpture.

"[It's] the idea of more public art in the neighborhoods selected by the community," says Ghiglino, "not by a group of curators."

"I really believe the curators and art critics and all those kind of people create a wedge between art and people," Lopez adds. "We want to try and cover that gap."

Though they hope to eventually gain the support of foundations and government agencies, Ghiglino and Lopez say they are using $225,000 of their own money to start the center.

"We've been very, very lucky," says Lopez, "and we'd like to give back a little bit. The foundry is going to be one of the best, the carving equipment is going to be the best -- we are not going to play little things. We are going to give the big things to the people who never saw it before."

"We have no children," Ghiglino adds, "and we want to leave a legacy of art and sculpture -- a legacy to people that they can do something with their hands, and they can create beautiful things and be surrounded by beautiful things."

Capitol Hill Sculpture Project

Speaking of sculpture, another project has taken shape on Capitol Hill. Organized by ArtGarden Design in conjunction with the Washington Sculptors Group's 20th anniversary, the Capitol Hill Sculpture Project is an exhibition of 18 works by group members. The show is installed in front gardens along the 300 to 900 blocks of East Capitol Street.

The exhibition continues through Sept. 30, and brochures for self-guided tours are available at each site. An opening reception will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call 202-686-8696 or visit www.washingtonsculptors.org.

Washington Sculpture Center Open House, 1338 Half Street SE. 2 to 6 p.m. June 19. Free. Call 202-479-6730 or visit www.dcsculpture.org.